Meet Ludington’s newest citizens.

January 21, 2015
Cheryl and Michael Whitehead, the newest Americans.

Cheryl and Michael Whitehead, the newest Americans.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

GRAND RAPIDS — Ludington gained two new citizens Wednesday. Michael and Cheryl Whitehead, natives of Canada, became naturalized citizens of the United States. The Whiteheads came to Ludington from the province of Manitoba 14 years ago.

“We wanted some sort of adventure,” Cheryl said about coming to the United States. “Our children had grown into adults and we knew we didn’t want to go back to Winnipeg (the capital city of Manitoba). We also wanted to move a little further south so we could garden a little longer each year.”

Manitoba is located in the center of Canada. It borders North Dakota and Minnesota to the south, Saskatchewan to the west, Ontario to the east and Nunavut territory to the north. Winnipeg is located 178 miles north of the North Dakota border.

“I don’t know if we thought we would come here permanently,” Cheryl said. “I thought we would live here for awhile and then possibly move back.”

Michael searched job sites and found a job opening at West Michigan Community Mental Health. He was able to work under a North American Free Trade Agreement visa. Cheryl said the application process was extensive.

Cheryl acknowledged that she, at age 67, and Michael, 70, may be of a slightly mature age to change citizenship. Their three adult children and six grandchildren still live in Canada. But, the friendships they have made over the past 14 years validated their choice to stay in the U.S.

“One of the first things we noticed, coming to the United States, was how friendly and warm Americans are,” Cheryl said. “We decided to become citizens because we knew this is where we wanted to stay. Life was good here and we have some very dear friends, the best friends we have ever had, right here. We knew we didn’t want to give that up.

“We also knew that we could put our talents to work for this country.”

Michael now works as an elementary school counselor for Baldwin Public Schools. Cheryl is a piano teacher. They both are avid gardeners.

Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum was the finale of years of preparation. Cheryl said the process is extensive and invasive, but in a good way. It required lots of references and legal documents. But, on Jan. 21, 2015, the couple stood among a group of people representing 31 countries, and swore their oath to the United States.

“We are just thrilled to become citizens,” Cheryl said. “It’s going to be a little different the first time we travel back across the border and are asked what country we are from. Now, we will be able to say the United States.”